CREATED Dec. 4, 2012
LEE COUNTY - Animal rights advocates showing up to court today, hoping a Lee County Judge will stop dismissing cases of animal cruelty. They say Judge Frank Mann has a history of being soft on animal abusers and unless he changes they plan to silently protest in his courtroom. Four in your Corner's Mike Mason has been following this story and has more.
For months, animal rights activists and even officers with Lee County's Animal Services have told us they have a real problem with Judge Mann's rulings. So we went to court today so we could see for ourselves if the judge was being fair or not.
About a dozen officers from Lee County Animal Services showed up to court along with several animal rights advocates. They want Judge Frank Mann to know they're watching, hoping he doesn't dismiss anymore animal cruelty cases without weighing all the evidence.
Gavin Piaski: "The animals can't speak out so it's good that some of us take an interest."
Gavin Piaski even missed school today so he could be in court. He and others began keeping tabs on Judge Mann last August. That's when officers charged Moira Woods with animal cruelty after finding her dog, "Reggie" emaciated with a horrible skin condition. Officers say when they tried to present evidence against Woods in court they were shot down.
Laura Chavarria: "While I was in mid sentence I was cut off by Judge Mann and he basically told me to get to the point, so I wasn't able to even show any pictures and when we offered to show them to him he didn't look at them."
Today, we watched case after case; people charged with cruelty and neglect and others for not having their pets vaccinated or treated by a vet. And once again, Judge Mann dismissed most charges.
Mark Dahlberg: "We need someone on that bench that can represent the animals that are not able to be here to represent themselves."
Within an hour and a half there were 13 cases and 7 had charges dismissed. The others resulted in small fines. In each case, the Judge never appeared to review any photos or evidence, he simply had the defendants raise their right hand and swear they were telling the truth.
Gavin Piaski: "It's just ridiculous, I'm sitting there and they say, "I swear" they're gone and case after case is dismissed."
Mike Mason: "He takes their word?"
Gavin Piaski: "Yeah."
In one case a man was charged with 3 counts of animal cruelty for leaving his 3 dogs in a small crate on the back of his truck. The man admitted he left them there exposed, with no food or water for at least 3 hours as he watched football at a friend's house but despite all this; case dismissed.
Robin Huskey: "I was just amazed, he has no compassion for the animals he doesn't look at any of the evidence and it's just heart breaking."
We tried to speak with Judge Mann numerous times in the past about his rulings on animal cruelty but he never returned our calls. Activists say if Judge Mann continues to dismiss animal cruelty cases they'll also continue to show up in his courtroom.